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TR: Clarence King via Gardiner Pass; TEETH STRAIGHTENER FOUND Lower Vidette Lake

Posted: Tue Oct 20, 2020 10:13 am
by seanr

Exploring Clarence King! I was eager to visit another classic before season's end and approaches made more challenging by fire closures somehow add to the enticement of visiting long awaited gems! Glancing at a topo, a route via Gardiner Basin looked intuitive from Roads End, albeit ~13,000 ft. gain round trip with much of it viciously steep and rugged. After about 2,200 feet of gain on the easy Bubbs Creek Trail, I found the Charlotte Dome climber trail which led to old Gardiner Pass trail. Another 4,000 ft. of additional bone dry, steep gain with a full overnight pack felt strenuous! I enjoyed fall colors, granitic domes, and memories of a Glacier Monument-Gardiner-Gould ridge traverse as a fitting distraction from the grind. After cresting the pass at 11,250, I descended to a serene camp lakeside at 10,600 with sunset views of Mt. Gardiner. I felt satisfied and revived by dinner after the long haul.

In the morning, I dropped down to 8,900 and then began the rugged ascent up Gardiner Creek, soaking in views of autumn colors and alpine lakes to a ridge traverse of Peak ~12,250 to Peak 12,500 followed by an airy ridge traverse to access Clarence King's south face and summit (12,861). Besides new scenery and absolute solitude, I hatched my plan to enjoy the well known scrambling and technical climbing on this peak. Since my phone/camera ran out of juice and California peakbaggers already have heard, read, and seen much about this thrilling route and its fine views, I will simply summarize by saying this is the perfect route to send with that cute gym climber who has been hinting at wanting to try a mellow outdoor free solo with moderate approach...or NOT! It's extra spicy, but there are fixed alpine anchors, protectable cracks, and route variations aplenty for those desiring.

I climbed easy-moderate 5th class cracks to ascend to the summit block area and played around with various options on the descent. Of interest to some, I located an extremely exposed, ~8 foot tall, 4th class crack on the east side of the south ridge which provides access to airy class 2 ledges that I have not seen referenced in reports. The crack and ledges could be used to bypass all difficult 4th-easy 5th climbing besides the summit block crack and final friction/mantle move, but those averse to exposure and preferring easier protection with gear may be better off on the standard route. I did see the often referenced finger crack and squeeze chimney, but did not test them as I climbed cracks nearby to climber's left.

After topping Clarence King, all that was left was for me to follow mountain lion tracks to water, feel refreshed by a dip in a lake, and then head back to Roads End the way I came. Beware, the approach trail I took is faint or absent in many stretches; finding my way back without map, route photos, and gps added to my feeling of adventure!

Tip--Gardiner Pass East (12,000ft.) could make for an enjoyable alternative to, or loop with, Gardiner Creek through alpine upper Gardiner Basin.